Life in Weihai — March 1 –April 15, 2011

Feb 27. We arrived in Weihai early Sunday evening and were greeted by Sue and Isaac. It was wonderful to see them again! Lulu had arranged for a van and driver to take us to our apartment because the four people and all our luggage would not have fit into even 2 taxis. She had also arranged for the cleaning staff in the International Education building to clean our apartment and for the water guy to deliver a bottle of fresh drinking water prior to our arrival. It was wonderful to walk into a clean apartment! Thank you Lulu for your kindness and thoughtfulness!

Our first impression of Weihai as we were driving through the city was that there were more buildings probably due to many construction projects having been completed while we were away. The construction around the middle of the city is completed and so the traffic did not seem as hectic and congested. Weihai is a really beautiful city. The other thing we noted was no snow, ice, or fierce damp winds. Last year there was snow on the ground until May, but this year, there has not been any snow, or even rain since we have been back.

Figure 1. Trees are blooming in early April

Figure 2. Bushes blooming on Campus early April.

Feb 28. In the morning of the next day, Sue arrived at our house and we went to the China Mobile store and China Unicom to put more money on our phone cards, and to reinstate our internet service, respectively. It took quite a while to do this since the lines are long.

Figure 3. our neighborhood technology stores for internet and mobile.

Finnie went bicycle shopping. He asked Isaac to help him with the translations and within a few hours they arrived back at our apartment happy with the purchase. Finnie bought a nice sturdy bicycle and he seems very pleased with it after having used it for the last 6 weeks.

Figure 4. Finnie and his new bike

Meanwhile Sue and I went shopping for groceries. HaiYue had changed everything around again. All of the merchandise on the third floor was moved onto the second floor (because there is a new coffee/ movie business on the third floor) and all the second floor stuff was rearranged, so now clothes and food are on the same floor. It has taken a while to find everything again – an even greater challenge since I have to guess at what most things are. I was particularly disappointed to find out that they no longer carry many items I normally bought there. We have been shopping more at the LiQun store where the selection is greater, but the store is more crowded. We ended the day with all four of us – Sue, Isaac, Finnie and me – going to the dumpling restaurant and enjoying a feast of dumplings, sweet and sour pork, green vegetables with mushrooms, and, of course, beer. We spent the rest of the week unpacking, renewing friendships, resupplying our food shelves, and buying 2 new items: a new hot water kettle, and a vacuum cleaner.

Figure 5. New Water kettle. Hopefully this one will last longer than our previous one — one of us remembers to put water into it before heating.

Figure 6. A vacuum cleaner. Unfortunately it requires Finnie to plug it in, turn it on, and push the sweeper over the floor — it’s like the one we have in Texas, it isn’t fully automatic… sigh…

Mar 10. Dinner with Liu and Zoe. Zoe invited us to join she and her husband, Liu, for dinner to catch up on each other’s lives. We agreed on March 10 and Zoe picked us up and took us to her house at 6 PM. We enjoyed a fabulous meal prepared by Liu. He is an outstanding cook – in the states we would refer to him as a “foodie”, someone who enjoys and is skilled in preparing delicious dishes. His homemade dumplings, poached fish, fresh scallops, and other delicious dishes are “mouth-wateringly” good! We enjoyed talking about all the things that had happened since we had seen each other last. And Finnie and I tried out a few Chinese words to see how much we remembered – not as much as we hoped, unfortunately.

Mar 11 Medical tests for residency permit. In order to get a residency permit we needed to have a few more medical tests done. So Zhang WanTing, an intern working in the International Education office, was assigned to help us through that process. We needed to have blood and urine tests, as well as a chest x-ray. While we were waiting for the paperwork to be processed, three bus loads of new Korean students lined up for their physical exams in order to receive their student residency permits. Even though it was chaotic, the process actually did not take a long time: the phlebotomist was well practiced and hit a healthy vein (Deb, here, is speaking of yourself; Finnie posed a somewhat greater challenge, but in the end, blood was obtained), and the chest x-ray equipment is pretty cool. The x-ray equipment just required one to stand on a podium and the x-ray technician remotely moved the arm of the machine around to take a picture wherever he wanted. So he took a series of small pictures that presumably x-rayed the lungs. To get to the building where these medical tests are done, we drove around Weihai’s perimeter road and noticed all kinds of new apartment buildings that had been under construction when we left, were now ready for occupancy. In addition, the Buddhist temple that was under construction all last year is now complete. And there are new shopping centers under construction now that we had not seen before. This city is growing so quickly!!

On the way home we drove through the middle of town and enjoyed seeing the park all along the shore. Some of it was under construction last year. It is a beautiful park, and we are anxious for a nice weekend day to go visit there.

March 11 and 12 New friends and new food. Friday night we had supper with WanTing and Lulu at the Yon-Ho restaurant, next door to KFC. Yon-Ho is a Korean restaurant that serves soy milk and “doughnuts” along with vegetable dishes. Even though we had eaten this before, we had not had it for supper – sort of like having pancakes for supper in the U.S. Americans would refer to it as “comfort food”. It was delicious, hearty, and a nice change from meat, rice, and vegetables.

Figure 7. Yon-Ho shop — next to KFC near East gate of Campus

Figure 8. Our Soy milk being served at Yon-Ho.

Saturday afternoon we enjoyed the company of new friends. Jenny and Bin are a young couple who just moved in upstairs. They moved here from Beijing where they both worked for a software development company, and the company is expanding so rapidly that they just opened a branch in Weihai. Bin is a software architect and Jenny is in marketing. We enjoyed their company very much. And at dinner time, Jenny went upstairs to get TongTong, their 8 month old daughter, and we all took a taxi to BeiFangJiaoZiWang. It has been very nice to enjoy their cheerful hellos when we meet on the stairs.

Figure 9. Our New Neighbors: Bin, Jenny, and TongTong.

Bin later graciously came down and re-installed our internet wireless router, so we get the speed we need and are paying for. Thanks again, Bin!

Mar 13 Dinner and a Movie. Following the format of a popular TBS channel movie show, “Dinner and a Movie”, we invited our International Education office friends (Lulu, Yin Chuanbo, Zheng Li, Liu Liang and his wife – Li, Isaac, Sue, and WanTing) to join us for dinner at the Big Fish Restaurant and then return to our house for a viewing of the first segment of “Wild China”. “Wild China” is a BBC documentary in English with Chinese subtitles about the varied landscapes and wild life that one can see in China. The meal was delicious as always at the Big Fish, and our living room was cozy with snacks and various beverages. We had a great time. We hope we can repeat this again when it is convenient for everyone.

Figure 10. Our Group at the Big Fish

March 14 Chinese lessons. We began our private Chinese lessons with Sue again. Sue modified our lessons to better suit our learning styles and our interests. Learning pinyin and conversational Chinese is just right for me. I am learning sentence structure, vocabulary, and pinyin at a faster rate than when I was trying to learn the characters at the same time. It is a much better system for me. But Finnie enjoys learning and writing the characters. He can read simple paragraphs now. In fact he was reading a children’s book yesterday, reading only the characters! I think we both have made great progress in just a month of lessons, building on last year’s knowledge.

Figure 11. Finnie practicing Chinese characters– isn’t it obvious how much he loves this?

Figure 12. Sue teaching Deb Chinese.

March 17 Thursday lunch with Lulu, Ping, Zoe, Amy at a new hot pot restaurant. Zoe arranged for us to join her and our friends for a hot pot lunch. Zoe, Lulu, Ping, and Amy were there. We had such a great time catching up with our friends!! We each had an individual hot pot and enjoyed beef, mutton, tofu, many different vegetables, and noodles. Hot pots are wonderful!

Mar 18 Foam Rubber lady and “Tree Vegetable.” This day was very blustery! The wind must have been blowing 30 miles per hour with sand mixed in it. It was hard to stay upright on our bikes. But we had a mission to complete! We realized after our “Dinner and a Movie” night, that our sofa is really uncomfortable to sit on. So we asked Isaac and Sue to help us find the foam rubber lady who made us our foam cushions for our beds and bed sheets shortly after we arrived in Weihai last year. Here’s the interesting thing about China – nothing stays the same for long! Everything is changing and improving! And the whole section of about 4 city blocks where the furniture shops and the foam rubber lady was located last year had been leveled while we were away. There is a very large banner announcing what will be built on that site, but no foam rubber lady. When we finally gave up trying to locate her, realizing that she was no longer there (unless her shop is hiding under a broken brick), we dropped by the bike shop and had some adjustments made to Finnie and Isaac’s bicycles. Then we all decided to go the BeifangJiaoziWang restaurant – of course – for an early dinner.

Figure 13. Signs of progress — but where did the bedding store go???

We each ordered what we wanted. Sue ordered a stir-fried egg and vegetable dish. The vegetable is a vegetable only available in early spring here in Shandong Province. The vegetable has a nutty, crunchy flavor and is actually the early tree buds of a Chinese Toon tree (a type of cedar tree). Its Chinese name is Xiang Chun Ya (Tree Vegetable). Looking up information on the web about this vegetable resulted in this: “The young leaves and shoots can be used as a vegetable called Hsiang Chun Ya (Xiang Chun Ya ) in China and thus Chinese toon is known as a “tree vegetable” . The fresh young leaves and shoots contain 84% water, 9.8% protein, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin B1 and B2, and are rich in aromatic substances. They are uniquely aromatic and therefore excellent for stir fry ( especially with egg ), salad, fry, pickling, seasoning, etc. This plant is a native of China, and China is the only country where Chinese toon young leaves and shoots are used as vegetable. Chinese toon is also used in Chinese traditional medicine. So Chinese toon is widely planted in China..” (www.agrohaitai.com) Since this first time of having the vegetable, we had it a few more times. I like the vegetable very much and it was a nice treat to have a new vegetable to taste!

March 19 Met Zheng Qun, Lulu’s fiancée.   Lulu is engaged! And we were honored when she invited us to join her and her fiancée for lunch at the restaurant we call the “Koren-Japanese-Chinese Restaurant”. As always, we enjoy the food there, but the wonderful part was meeting Zheng Qun. He is a very nice young man and obviously adores Lulu! We wish them much happiness as they begin to build their lives together! Zheng Qun is a professional photographer specializing in portraits. He took a picture of us at the restaurant. I am afraid his subjects were not the most beautiful or handsome, but his talent in taking pictures is obvious.

Figure 14.  Zheng Qun, Lulu’s fiancee.

Figure 15. Zheng Qun’s photo of Deb and Finnie

March 20 Teaching and English Conversation Corners. Yin ChuanBo is responsible for us now and another one of his duties was to make sure I was introduced to Portia, the assistant chair for Translation and Interpretation, so that I could start my job for this semester. This initial meeting with Portia was March 8 and my classes started on March 21. As it turned out, one of the other foreign teachers left just after the semester began and I was able to pick up one of his classes. It is a great job! I am enjoying the students very much. I teach Listening and Speaking English. I have 6 sections of students (30 students in a section). I meet with each section 2 hours every other week. So one week I teach 12 hours and the next week I don’t teach. It’s great! The students are second semester freshmen English majors and they are eager to practice their English skills. Each week is a new topic – family, literature and art, geography, etc – and the final exam will be a presentation on a meatier topic I have assigned to each group. For instance, “In your opinion, what will be the economic impact on China and on other nations of the recent devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan?”

Figure 16. Literature Building — where Deb teaches this semester

Portia also wondered if I would be interested in leading some English Conversation Corners. Finnie and I agreed to meet with students on Wednesdays and Sundays for one and half hours each time. These sessions are so much fun. There are regulars and there are students who come occasionally, but so far we have had about 10 students per session. We try to not talk too much as the students need the practice. We answer questions about life in the U.S., about our family, about our life here in Weihai. We ask questions that try to lead them into discussions about some subject other than the normal topics of food, hometowns, and school life. Some students are interested in studying abroad and Finnie is the perfect person to field those questions. We have had students not only from the English department, but also from business, marine biology, and mathematics! The word is spreading – I am not sure how, but the student grapevine seems to be quite effective.

The building where the conversations occur is a brand new building. It was still under construction when we left last year. But now it is a new building offering students 2 new canteens to eat in, and on the first floor is an inside shopping mall with a medium sized grocery store. The grocery store stocks items that students need for studying, snacking, or a quick meal. A couple of weeks ago I needed a haircut and went to the new hair salon, where I got a great haircut for 10 yuan! Finnie had checked out the other hair salon and paid 15 yuan for his “burr-cut”. The new building is a great addition to the campus!

Figure 17. Canteen 4

Figure 18. Sunday Morning English Conversation

March 21 – shoe insert. Just outside the new building is a man who sets up his street shop to repair shoes, zippers, or any clothing item. Finnie had watched me walk one day and decided that I would limp less if I had a heel insert in my left shoe. I went to this vendor to try to explain what I needed, but got no where with my limited Chinlish. So before lunch, WanTing went with Finnie and me to see if she could explain what I wanted. With his very sharp knife, a scrap of leather, and expert whittling technique he fashioned a heel insert for me which works wonderfully! It was an interesting experience to watch him craft a heel insert from scratch!

Figure 19. Shoe repair man making a shoe insert for Deb’s shoe.

Mar 21 Residency permit trip; picture of residency permits. ChuanBo took us to get our residency permits at the visa office about 3 miles from where we live. It was a quick trip and required us to have a picture taken and we signed a form. It was easy because ChuanBo had worked hard to make sure all the paperwork was in order before we got to the office. It appears to us that for us to receive the residency permits requires many hours of work by Lulu or Chuanbo to ensure that the permits are issued. We appreciate their hard work.

Figure 20. Foreign Expert Certificates

March 26 Saturday with Ping and husband – sea cucumber farm. Ping and her husband, Liu YunBo, and their friend, Mr. Jiang Bo, a marine biology teacher, invited us to join them on a day trip to the end of the peninsula we live on. Mr. Jiang and YunBo wanted to show us their sea cucumber farm. Yun Bo has a Toyota Highlander and so the five of us drove in luxury around Weihai’s perimeter, through the east end of the city and out into the countryside. Since we had not been to the end of this peninsula, Ping asked YunBo to drive to the park at the end of the peninsula. On the way to the park, we stopped at a small farming village to see a new summer tourist park being built. We were told that it is supposed to be ready by this summer.

Figure 21. Ping, Deb, Jiang Bo and Liu YunBo at the fisherman village recreation park

Figure 22. Finnie and Deb at the fisherman village recreation park

Across the street from the new park was a kindergarten and we could not resist taking pictures of the very cute little children happily playing on their playground equipment.

Figure 23. Kids Playground at the fisherman village recreation park

In about an hour we reached the gate to the park. We did not realize that the cost of entry was so expensive until Ping and Bo had purchased 3 tickets for Ping, Finnie and me to visit this site. Yun Bo and Mr. Jiang waited outside the gate for our return.

Figure 24. Stone Monument at the End of the Earth. It says, starting with the right column, “The most eastern point of China’s coast,” the mid section says “Good Luck Point,”, and the left column says “the sun rises from Cheng Mountain and casts its first rays on this point.”

While we were out on the peninsula we saw the rocky coast and the beautiful scenery of this area. This is referred to in China as the “End of the Earth”, since it is the farthest eastern land point of China. We took lots of pictures, and show some of them here.

Figure 25. The Emperor and two Mandarins looking eastward from the point.

Figure 26. Deb and Ping at “Good Luck Point”

But the special event that happened was the interaction between us and 2 busloads of touring farmers from Sichuan province. We were perhaps as interesting an attraction as the scenery of the spot we were all visiting! Actually the farmers were all about our ages and through Ping and our limited Chinese we learned about each other. There are several pictures of us talking to the farmers and I think those pictures explain a lot!

Figure 27. Tourists touching Happy Buddha — shaped rock.

Figure 28. Deb and lady from Sichuan Province

Figure 29. Finnie and Deb, tourists from Weihai, with tourists from Sichuan Province.

Waving farewell to the farmers, we viewed other places in the park and then joined YunBo and Mr. Jiang outside the gate. We drove to a restaurant that is a favorite of Mr. Jiang’s. We had fresh seafood like we have never had before! Before we were seated, we all went into the kitchen and selected the things we were going to eat! This was really cool! Then we arrived at our dining room and soon the food started arriving! We ate sea urchin, shark skin, scallops, shrimp, fish dumplings, peanuts, green vegetable, and we were amazed at how good some of these dishes tasted! Thank you Mr. Jiang for an incredible dining experience!

Mr. Jiang then took us to his sea cucumber farm which was not too far away. Mr. Jiang, YunBo and another business partner own a 3 pond sea cucumber farm. We learned a lot about the business of owning a farm in China, especially these sea ponds. If I remember correctly, one can buy these ponds but only for a certain length of time, and then you no longer own them and must relinquish your rights to the farm pond. Mr. Jiang’s brother lives in a typical farmhouse near the ponds to make sure that the ponds are well looked after. Growing sea cucumbers is an expensive business, but the sea cucumbers produce a healthy income. Sea cucumber larvae are purchased from a larvae producing farm and then the farm ponds are seeded with the larvae. The sea cucumbers are allowed to grow to 100 grams which takes about 2 years. Then they are harvested and sold. We understand that wholesale price for dried sea cucumbers is ¥40 to ¥65 (CNY) per kg dry weight (that is $3 to $5/ lb).  They are much more expensive in the grocery store and even more in restaurants! Obviously, this is a precious crop and must be carefully tended.

Figure 30. Two Sea Cucumbers in the sea pond and Bo and Bo’s Farm

Figure 31. One of Mr. Jiang’s many guard dogs on duty at the sea pond.

Figure 32. Bo and Bo Sea Cucumber Farm’s second pond.

While there, we were invited to visit a farmer’s house.  We learned about how the farmers stay warm by sleeping, dining, and relaxing on a raised platform that has a fire warming it underneath. We admired the huge wok on the wood stove for food preparation. The layout of the house is, according to our teacher, Sue, very typical of farm houses in China, and she used the layout to help Finnie understand several Chinese characters much better!

Figure 33. A typical farm house, with entry into the kitchen and eating area, with sleeping rooms on each side. In the foreground, workers are preparing nets to keep control of the sea cucumbers

Figure 34. Steamer for cooking in the farmhouse kitchen. It uses coal or wood to cook food and heat the water and the house

Figure 35. A farm house bed. It is made of concrete with a wood top, on which a pad is placed for sleeping. The concrete base has a fireplace underneath for heating.

We asked many questions and learned a lot about this marine agriculture business. Our last stop was the larvae producing farm where we saw millions of sea cucumber larvae growing in cement ponds in the dark. They are feed a special plankton diet that is produced at the farm. And then we went to another part of the larvae farm and saw baby flounders being grown to sell to farmers to raise in their large outdoor sea ponds.

Figure 36. Baby Flounder Nursery.

This was an amazing day and we enjoyed every second of it!! Thank you Ping, YunBo, and Mr. Jiang for this up close glimpse of marine agriculture!

March 27 Friday concert with Frank, Amy, Mr. Fan.  Amy Zhou and Frank invited us to join them at the concert of 4 opera students. For two hours we were treated to beautiful renditions of many famous opera arias. There were two soprano singers and two baritone singers. The students were giving this performance as a dress rehearsal for the opera competition that they were competing in the following week. All of them performed beautifully, despite the comings and goings of several children in the audience. One little girl was waiting impatiently with an enormous bouquet of flowers that was almost as big as she was. We thought that she was waiting for the soprano singer to end her performance and would give her the flowers, but no! She waited through the next performance and when the singer was through performing, she dashed on stage and gave the bouquet to the accompanying pianist — her father, maybe? She was very adorable. I think we have pictures of her waiting – impatiently.

Figure 37. Italian Opera Singers Recital

Figure 38. All four singers and their accompanists

Figure 39. Little Girl gave the bouquet to the accompanist! Way cool!

The March Blog.  Most of our free time during March was spent catching up on the last two blogs we posted. While I wrote the entries, Finnie was selecting from thousands of pictures and using PhotoShop to size and edit them. Both processes are tedious and time consuming. But we feel that this blog is not only important for us to post about our extraordinary life in China, but also to share with family, friends, and other interested persons about our post-retirement adventures.

Post-retirement is a whole new way of living, we are discovering, and many of us are still active, mobile, and interested in continuous learning, so it is important to figure out how to plan one’s daily post-retirement life after 30 plus years of working 10-15 hour days at some job. While we have chosen the international living route for now, others might find more satisfaction in other adventures. I must confess that not having a daily commitment to a job is quite lovely!

Figure 39. Finnie working on the blog

April 2-5, 2011. Trip to Dalian.

While Zhang Wan Ting was an intern working in the SDUW International Education office, she invited Finnie and me to visit Dalian where her university is located. Zhang Wan Ting had returned to Dalian by mid March, so when we found that we had a 3 day weekend because of Xing Ming Festival, we planned a trip to Dalian. Finnie and I had previously agreed that when we could, we wanted to visit Dalian. Qing Ming Festival is similar to our Memorial Day when we honor those who have served in a war and died, and when families go to the cemeteries where relatives are buried to pray and to take time to clean the tombs and graves from winter debris. We decided to take the night ferry from Weihai to Dalian, which left the dock at 9:30 PM and arrived in Dalian at 4:30AM. We took a taxi to the dock, presented our tickets, and waited for the call to board the ship. Bill, a student worker in the International Education office, insisted on making sure we got to the ferry dock by getting a taxi for us and delivering us to the dock and waiting with us before we boarded the ship.

Bill is a very gracious person and we very much appreciate all the time he took to make sure we got to the right boat! As we were waiting for the boat, we were, of course, an oddity. As Bill and Finnie talked, many near-by passengers edged closer to hear. While they were talking, a student sat down beside me and started a conversation with me. It turned out that he is a junior at SDUW in computer science and was taking an opportunity to practice his English. Bill asked him to make sure we got to our correct room on board and the student very sweetly took us to our room. By the time the ship left the dock, our four-bunk room had four people in it. We had the lower bunks and two men had the upper berths and shortly after we left the dock they were asleep – snoring dissonantly! Between the snoring and the rather hard sleeping surface, we each got only a few hours of sleep. Then the boat docked, we disembarked and followed the crowd to a bus, not sure where we would end up. It turned out that we ended up at the gate of the ferry dock where we quickly found a taxi. Finnie showed the driver the address of the MacDonald’s where we would meet WanTing a few hours later and he sped us there in the pre-dawn light. We sat in McDonalds having coffee, breakfast and reading our Kindles until WanTing arrived about 7:30. She had arranged for us to be able to check into our hotel room early and so we took a cab directly to our wonderful hotel in the middle of Dalian. WanTing had secured an excellent rate for us via the internet for our room and we found the room very, very nice and quite comfortable. We visited for a while and then decided to leave for our day of sightseeing.

While we were in the driveway of the hotel, hailing a taxi, a taxi driver commissioned by the hotel to drive guests around said he would take us where we wanted to go for the morning for a reasonable price. He was a fun taxi driver and seemed to enjoy taking us around. By the time we left his taxi just before lunch, we had agreed to take him up on his offer of driving us to Lushun, a suburb of Dalian, the next day for his reasonable fee. By the end of our second day together, Yang WenLong, our taxi driver, was a friend!

WanTing had planned an excellent first day of seeing Dalian – XingHai Square, a drive along the rocky coastline, lunch at a Beijing Duck restaurant, and an afternoon at the aquarium. It was a great day and we decided that Dalian would be an excellent city to live in. Dalian is clean with a mix of Russian, Japanese, and Chinese architecture. It is the location of a large software development industry, and it is a favorite resort city for Russians.

Figure 40. Ultra-nice housing units surround XingHai Square all the way to the sea.

Figure 41. Citizens’ foot print walk in bronze.

Figure 42. I-55 Coffee Stop. How cool is that?

Figure 43. Deb the skate boarder. Wan Ting and Finnie didn’t know how talented she is!

Figure 44. I think she may be gaining on the guy in front…

Figure 45. WanTing showing how to prepare the Beijing duck roll for eating. Starting with the very thin Chinese flour “tortillas”

Figure 46. After adding onion, celery, and duck sauce, you begin to wrap the preparation.

Figure 47. Roll it up and fold it.

Figure 48. Now eat it!

Figure 49. hmm hmm, Good!! Tai hao chi le!!

Figure 50. Dalian has two huge aquaria, and this one was too big to see in a day. There were way too many photo-ops

Figure 51. The aquarium also had an impressive dolphin show that was very popular!

Our second day started at 9AM by meeting Yang WenLong in the hotel lobby. We drove for over an hour to pick up Wanting at her university in Lushun. It took forever to get there because the QingMing traffic was creating a huge bottleneck. A lot of people were going to their ancestral graveyards, and there were flowers and sacrificial objects to be purchased along the road side.

Figure 52. QingMing flowers — I think made of paper and plastic for graves were everywhere.

It was quite common to see someone stopped by the highway and obviously praying. We assume that it was approximately where the ancestor was buried. Finally arriving at the university gate, we picked up WanTing and immediately drove to the Russian-Japanese Prison Camp.

During the time when Russia controlled the northeast part of China, Chinese dissidents were held in this prison; during the time when Japan controlled this northeast part of China, Chinese and Korean opponents of the foreign regimes were held in the prison. It was a grim place. With little to eat, no privacy, hard labor, and torture, so many, many prisoners died or were executed.

Figure 53. Typical cell for 6-8 prisoners.

Figure 54. Prisoner’s clothing in one of the strip-search rooms

Figure 55. Actors waiting for their roles in a documentary being made at the prison.

Mr. Yang then drove us to the top of Mt. Baiyu, the highest peak in Lushun and we could see out over Lushun’s harbor. It is a very protected large cove where there is a Navy yard, shipbuilding operations, tourist beaches, and restaurants lining the cove.

Figure 56. Crest of Mount Baiyu. WanTing, Deb, Finnie, and Yang Wenlong.

Figure 57. Tower on Mt Baiyu. Actually a Japanese-built tower during Japanese occupation.

Figure 58. Deb and WanTing on the observation platform with Lushun below.

Figure 59. A view of Lushun Kou (mouth of the harbor) from Mt. Baiyu

Many vendors had set up their stores around the visitors platform and as I walked by with my cane in hand, the shopkeeper showed us walking sticks like the one I had lost in the Weihai airport when we arrived on February 28! We were thrilled because we had been looking for a replacement cane for a long time. Finnie launched into his “Bargaining Zone” and we ended up buying two sticks for about the price she had quoted for one stick. Finnie has a black one and I have a red one. I really like these walking sticks because they are light but sturdy, and collapsible. Yang drove down the mountain and we got out to view the harbor at water level. Again, a very beautiful harbor.

Figure 60. Harbor level view

We decided it was lunch time and WanTing had suggested that we eat at her favorite hot pot restaurant. We invited Yang to eat with us and the four of us had a wonderful meal together! We talked and laughed and the food was outstanding. Have I said before how much I love hot pots?

Figure 61. A delicious lunch. Hotpot with lamb and lots of other ingredients. Deb, Wenlong, and WanTing

Figure 62. Our Hotpot

Figure 63. Ingredients for the hotpot. Lamb, and mushrooms, and other side dishes.

Yang drove us through WanTing’s university so we could see where she goes to school. We got out and walked around for a bit. And, naturally, we were a magnet for two girls who came over to practice their English speaking skills. We love these interactions because we enjoy the questions they ask and delight in their enthusiasm to talk with us.

Figure 64. Dalian University of Foreign Languages. The lake. WanTing said she was showing us another hotpot. but Finnie was too dull to get it, so she explained that the s-shaped bridge makes the lake look like a hotpot — and it does!

Figure 65. Two students who stopped to visit a few minutes.

Figure 66. Campus building. Dalian University of Foreign Languages

Figure 67. Campus building. Dalian University of Foreign Languages

Yang said he needed to get back home soon, so WanTing had Yang drive us quickly around the enormous nearby campus of the Dalian Medical University. We dropped WanTing off at her university gate saying a heartfelt thank you and goodbye. Yang drove us back to the hotel and we rested for a few minutes before heading out to find dinner.  The next morning we checked out of our hotel and Yang drove us to the harbor in order to take our ferry ride back to Weihai. We had decided that we needed to get sleep on Tuesday night, so we opted for seats on the day ferry, instead of taking the Tuesday night ferry back. It turns out that “seats” on the ferry is a space on an 8 person picnic table in a small room with 15 other 8 person picnic tables. We read, dozed, and walked out to the deck to get some air and watch the sea go by. We arrived in Weihai at 5PM , headed for a nearby restaurant — Shen Gui pie — (sorry Zoe!), had supper, and took a taxi home.

We really enjoyed this trip to Dalian very much. It was informative, challenging, different, and we met some wonderful people! Thank you, WanTing, for taking the time to be our host in Dalian!

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Deb and Finnie Tour Vietnam

Vietnam Tour

February 14, 2011.  Finnie’s valentine present to me was to tour Vietnam for two weeks prior to our return to Weihai, China, so this meant lugging more suitcases of our stuff that we would have needed for a 2 week trip.  Our luggage held important things like coffee, warm underwear, two computers, medicines, and new warm clothes. We left the United States on a 13 hour direct flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Tokyo.  After a 3 hour layover, we flew another 6 hours to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).  We were met at the airport on February 15th by our guide, Sang,  who took us to the Oscar Hotel and made sure we were checked in properly.   We gratefully slept in our nice and comfortable room. 

February 16: We awoke the next morning, packed a few things in an overnight bag, stored our several suitcases with the hotel concierge, and  enjoyed a great western/Vietnamese breakfast buffet in the hotel’s restaurant which overlooked downtown Ho Chi Minh City. 

Figure 1 A view of the central area of Ho Chi Minh City from our hotel

Our guide picked us up and while he explained what we were seeing, our driver took us into the Mekong River delta to the pier at Vinh Long .  Of course we made a rest stop for coffee on the way.

Figure 2 Vietnamese coffee at a rest stop.  Good and Strong!

By the way, in order to remember what we saw and when, I have referred to our tour itinerary.  I doubt seriously that we would have remembered all the names of all the places, towns, and things we visited without that itinerary.  In some places I have quoted the itinerary, marked with an “*” .  We booked our tour through a Vietnamese tour  agency, HaiVenu.  We were pleased with the arrangements made by this company.

We arrived  in time to board the ‘Mekong Eyes’ for a river cruise of the Delta’s canals and tributaries.

Figure 3.  Mekong Eyes with Dragon Eyes moored beside her

The first thing we did after checking into our cabin, was to eat a beautifully prepared and delicious lunch.  The fruits, vegetables, and seafood were so fresh and delicious!   

Figure 4.  Spring Rolls

Figure 5.  Lunch on Mekong Eyes.  2nd courses — pork, rice, and salad

Our boat cruised along the Tien Giang River and into Cho Lach canal where we were passed by many sand and rice barges. 

Figure 6. Rice Boat

We stopped at a family business that makes food products out of rice – we watched as puffed rice cakes were made (very similar to an American snack called Rice Crispy treats) and tasted the rice wine produced that is bottled with a poisonous snake inside the bottle (this is considered an exquisite alcoholic drink).

Figure 7Making Puffed rice treats.  Step 1:  add river sand to big wok

Figure 8.  Making Puffed Rice Treat:  heat fast and stir like crazy.

Figure 9.  Making Puffed Rice Treat:  Presto.  Rice pops and puffs

Figure 10.  Making Puffed Rice Treat:  pour puffed rice into a bowl

Figure 11. Making Puffed Rice Treat:  stir in syrup, and press into a rectangular frame, then cut into squares

Figure 11a.  Making Rice Wine:  Ferment and then distill and bottle

Figure 12.  Making Rice paper.  Ladle rice fiber slurry onto a strainer and steam

Figure 13.  Then peel off and dry

We drifted along the river watching local people at their daily work, such as drying exotic fruits and building ships.   And we saw many lumber yards filled with uncut teak lumber and mangrove trunks, both woods are used for building because both are very strong and water and insect resistant.

Figure 14.  Logs for sale

Later, on the Mang Thit River, at the small town of Cai Nhum, we disembarked again for a  visit  to a brick factory and then walked along a narrow road where we could observe people tending their gardens and visiting neighbors .   At the brick factory we were fascinated by the number of bricks being made, all baked in large bee-hive shaped kilns heated with rice straw.  Finnie was happily greeted again as a Happy Buddha by one of the workers.

Figure 15.  Huge brick kiln.  One of hundreds right along the river.  Fired by Rice hulls

Figure 16.  Stacking the cooled bricks

Figure 17.  Happy brick maker rubbing Happy Buddha belly.

Returning to the boat we set off for Tra On, where the boat  anchored for the night. We  enjoyed the  sunset while we visited with our fellow travellers before dinner.

Figure 18.  Roland and Finnie solving world problems on deck at dusk.

The boat gently rocked us to sleep at bedtime.

February 17.   The boat motors were turned on at 6AM, which acted as an alarm clock.  We dressed and enjoyed an early morning breakfast as we watched the sunrise.

Figure 19.  Sunrise on the Mekong

Figure 20.  Who said Finnie didn’t have a healthy breakfast?

After breakfast we boarded a traditional sampan, “a small boat iconic to the Delta”*.  The  boat cruised through a palm-shaded creek to see the local houses, green orchards and ship building yards. We  observed the waterborne commerce at Cai Rang floating market, considered one of the best on the Delta.   Hundreds of small boats were parked along the river edge as owners sold their goods from their boats. We enjoyed freshly cut pineapples as a mid-morning snack.

Figure 21.  Loads of produce everywhere

Figure 22.  Soup Lady to the rescue at lunch time

Figure 23.  Ah!  Cool, refreshing fruit drinks for sale!

Figure 24.  Soup lady again, making her rounds through all the boats

Figure 25.   Fresh, sweet pineapple right on the pineapple barge.

We arrived in Ninh Kieu Pier where we left our cruise boat to return to Ho Chi Minh City.

After a late afternoon rest, we enjoyed a lovely dinner with the Ho Chi Minh office manager of the travel agency with whom we booked our trip.

 

February 18 We  had breakfast in our hotel, and then our guide and driver took us to visit the famous Cu Chi tunnels, “a Byzantine maze of underground passages, chambers, rooms and booby traps used by both the Vietminh and the Viet Cong to suddenly materialise as if from nowhere, launch a lightning ambush, and vanish equally rapidly.”*

 

Figure 26.  People walking on cover to a tunnel

Figure 27.  Finnie in tunnel.  (I think you are supposed to crouch down and walk through.  Also, you are supposed to be able to pass people in the tunnel.  Guess what two of these things I couldn’t do.  Also it got pretty warm, pretty fast in there.

Figure 28.  A group posing by a wrecked tank.

Figure 29.  A closed trap door

Figure 30.  The trap door open.

 

Figure 31.  Other kinds of traps

Figure 32.  Yet another kind of trap

Figure 33.  A First-aid station

We returned to Ho Chi Minh City, and we had lunch at in a beautiful outdoor garden restaurant  that was originally a French villa in mid-city.  We relaxed at our table beside a large pool.

Figure 34.  Lunch at an old French Villa

Figure 35.  Spring rolls on a pineapple lantern

Figure 36.  After lunch relaxation

Figure 37.  Vintage Citroen at the restaurant entry

After lunch we visited the Reunification Hall – an early colonial masterpiece constructed in 1960 to accommodate the Governor –general of Indochina. 

Figure 38. Reunification Hall (Presidential Palace)

Then we visited the Museum of War Remnants which provided a “partial,  riveting  perspective of the ‘American War’ “*.  Although we remember seeing many of the images displayed in this museum on the nightly news broadcasts when they happened over a period of years, the museum provided a concentrated, poignant  reminder of  hundreds of tragic moments and events of the war, which the passage of time has not made easier to take in.

 

Figure 39.  We don’t remember hearing about this event

  We spent one more night in the Oscar hotel. 

 February 19:   

After one last Oscar Hotel breakfast, we were taken to the airport to fly to Hue.  We  arrived in Phu Bai airport in Hue and were met by our new guide, Ving.  He helped us check into our Hue hotel, Orchid Hotel. 

Figure 40.  Hue.  View from our hotel (Orchid) of Tropical Garden Restaurant across the street

We enjoyed a great lunch in the garden restaurant across the street.   The food in Hue is very good – a cross between Asian and French cuisine made with fresh fruits and vegetables.  Our favourite dish was Hue pancakes.  

Figure 41.  Tropical Garden Restaurant

Figure 42.  A pancake at the Tropical Garden Restaurant

Figure 43.  Deb enjoying coffee at the Tropical Garden

After lunch we were astonished by Vietnam’s Forbidden City, called  the Imperial Citadel of Hue, perhaps largely due to the fact that neither of us knew that there was one.  Hue is the ancient capital of Vietnam.   The war destroyed much of the palace but with UNESCO funds it is painstakingly being reconstructed.  The reconstructed portions give one an idea of the beauty of the palace during the imperial period.  We learned an enormous amount of information at this palace.  For example, we learned that before the French colonization in the mid-19th century, the written Vietnamese language used Chinese characters.  Many of the old buildings were embellished with Chinese calligraphy and we recognized and knew the meaning of a few characters!  Prior to the French colonization, Vietnam had been embroiled in China’s feudal expansionism for over 1000 years, which imparted many Chinese cultural aspects in Vietnam.  The French introduced a Romanized written version of the Vietnamese language, which is now used exclusively in Vietnam.  During the 1940’s, Japan expelled the French in order to occupy the country and divided the country into the North and South.  After World War II, the French attempted to regain control, but were unsuccessful.  The United States sided with the South for control; while China and the Soviet Union sided with the North.  We were struck again with the impact that the Chinese, French, Japanese and American cultures have had on Vietnam and its people.

Figure 44.  Entrance to the Imperial City

Figure 45. Within the Imperial City

Figure 46.  Within the Imperial City  — showing use of broken ceramics for decoration

Figure 47. Within the Imperial City.  We didn’t learn the significance of this, but the kids were way cute!

Figure 48.  Within the Imperial City.   Each kettle commemorates an Emperor at Emperor Worship pavilion

Figure 49.  Within the Imperial City close up shot of a kettle.  Note bullet strike marks from the war

Figure 50. Within the Imperial City – a covered walk

Figure 51. Within the Imperial City – covered walk ceiling

Figure 52.  Within the Imperial City.  An unrestored gate showing effects of war

Figure 53. Within the Imperial City.  3-D artwork, using natural materials for texture

Figure 54.  Within the Imperial City.  Emperor Worship Pavilion

Despite the influence of the other nations on Vietnam, the Vietnamese see themselves as  resourceful, resilient, and creative.  We evidenced all those attributes ourselves.  There is a story that Ving, our guide, told us (in an explanation of the amazing traffic flow that continually amazed us) that was insightful in a somewhat deeper sense. He said, “Vietnamese people are like water flowing over rocks in a stream.  The water flows around rocks and other obstacles looking for any opportunity to flow toward the end of the river.  Vietnamese know that there are opportunities everywhere to meet one’s goal. But, just like water, if we are confronted by too much pressure, collectively we become a very powerful force. This philosophy is even true in driving habits.  There are motorcycles everywhere, with cars and trucks filling in the spaces between the motorcycles.  All vehicles flow together looking for any empty square centimeter, it seemed,  in order to move toward the end of the street – like water does in a rocky stream.  It seems like controlled chaos to our western eyes, but very rarely did we see an accident and never any hostility!

We enjoyed another evening in our Orchid Hotel room with the superb support from the hotel staff – right down to the fresh fruit tray and orchids adorning our bed.

February 20
After breakfast at the hotel which included French pastries, fresh fruit, congee (rice porridge) and Asian vegetable dishes, we walked to a sampan for our cruise along the Perfume River to the Thien Mu Pagoda.  This Buddhist monastery was one of the few structures left undamaged in the Vietnam war.  The monastery is home to a sizable number of monks and novice monks, from very young boys to very old monks.  It is a serene, beautiful spot. 

Figure 55.  water taxi to Thien Mu Pagoda

Figure 56. Water taxi to Thien Mu Pagoda — Happy Buddha being offered the opportunity to buy a Happy Buddha.  The two are now happily together here in Weihai!

Figure 57. Water taxi to Thien Mu Pagoda  — the pagoda viewed from boat.

Figure 58.  Water taxi to Thien Mu Pagoda — our taxi returning to the dock

Figure 59.  Thein Mu Pagoda.  Old woman on her boat-house

Figure 60. Thien Mu Pagoda

Figure 61. Thien Mu Pagoda

Figure 62. Thien Mu Pagoda.  alter

Figure 63. Thien Mu Pagoda grounds

It was a Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, from this monastery who burned himself during the war to protest the government’s oppression of Buddhism in favor of Catholicism.   WIkipedia says, “Hòa thượng Thích Quảng Đức[a] (Vietnamese pronunciation: [tʰɪ̌c kwãːŋ ɗɨ̌k], Saigon: [tʰɪ̌t kwɐ̂ːŋ ɗɨ̌k]  ( listen); born Lâm Văn Tức (1897 – 11 June 1963) was a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection on 11 June 1963. Thích Quảng Đức was protesting against the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam’s Ngô Đình Diệm administration. Photos of his self-immolation were circulated widely across the world and brought attention to the policies of the Diệm regime. Malcolm Browne won a Pulitzer Prize for his iconic photo of the monk’s death, as did David Halberstam for his written account. After his death, his body was re-cremated, but his heart remained intact.[2][3] This was interpreted as a symbol of compassion and led Buddhists to revere him as a bodhisattva, heightening the impact of his death on the public psyche.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Th%C3%ADch_Qu%E1%BA%A3ng_%C4%90%E1%BB%A9c

Figure 64. Thien Mu Pagoda.  The  car used by Monk Thich Quang Duc to drive to Saigon to burn himself.

Returning toward Hue, we stopped at a “garden house” for tea.  The woman who once lived at this house was a benefactor to the Thein Mu Buddhist monastery.  She is now dead, but her descendents still live in the house and welcome guests from all over the world to their home to enjoy the gardens and have tea.  The pond in the garden had some gorgeous lotus blossoms and the camellia bushes on either side of the main walkway were blooming.  Two camellia bushes in a family garden denoted that this was a home of a Mandarin, an administrative bureaucrat to the King, who lived in the Imperial Palace.  “The garden houses are a unique feature of Hue. The houses are traditional, privately owned, and set in attractive formal gardens. Some have connections with the old Royal Imperial Court. Hue traditional architecture has long had close associations with the natural environment. The garden houses reflect this association. Each is highly individual – house and garden, people and scenery, plants, clouds and water co-exist and blend with each other in a harmonious context. The narrow streets and abundant flora give the garden house area a country village feeling.”*

Figure 65.  Ancient Garden House near the Pagoda.  Entry gate

Figure 66.  Ancient Garden House near the Pagoda. Lotus pond in front of guest room

Figure 67.  Ancient Garden House near the Pagoda.   Lotus blossom

Figure 68.   Ancient Garden House near the Pagoda.  Inside tea room and family alter

Figure 69.   Ancient Garden House near the Pagoda.  Deb and Finnie with the current owner — a member of the family who built the house.

We returned to Hue, and after lunch we visited the Royal Tombs of Emperor Tu Duc and Emperor Khai Dinh. The two mausoleums span the long reign of the Nguyen King’s imperial dynasty showing a stark contrast between Sino-Vietnamese and European influenced architecture. We include a few pictures here to describe the difference between the two tombs.

 Each Royal mausoleum reflects the personality of the Emperor it commemorates. “Emperor Tự Đức (Hán tự: ) (22 September 1829 – 17 July 1883) (full name: Nguyễn Phúc Hồng Nhậm, also Nguyen Phuc Thi) was the fourth emperor of the Nguyễn Dynasty of Vietnam and reigned from 1847–1883.

The son of Emperor Thiệu Trị, Prince Nguyễn Phúc Hồng Nhậm was born on 22 September 1829, and succeeded his father on the throne, with the reigning title of Tự Đức, but family troubles caused his era to have a violent start. Thiệu Trị had passed over his more moderate eldest son, Hồng Bảo, to give the throne to Tự Đức, known for his staunch Confucianism and opposition to foreigners and innovation. As a result, and due to the repressive policies of the previous Nguyễn Dynasty emperor, there was now a great deal of dissatisfaction with Nguyễn rule and a legitimate royal figure to rally this opposition.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%E1%BB%B1_%C4%90%E1%BB%A9c

Figure 70.  Emperor Tu Duc mausoleum.  Poetry House

Figure 71. Emperor Tu Duc mausoleum.

Figure 72. Emperor Tu Duc mausoleum.  Tomb courtyard

The tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh is an unprepossessing concrete construction on the side of a wide valley. The use of fragments of ceramics and glass for decoration demonstrate a European influence.  The  views from the courtyard in front of the mausoleum are very lovely.

Figure 73.  Emperor Khai Dinh mausoleum.

Figure 74.  Emperor Khai Dinh mausoleum.  View of the valley below

Figure 75.  Emperor Khai Dinh mausoleum.  Tomb room

 

Figure 76.  Emperor Khai Dinh mausoleum

Figure 77.   Emperor Khai Dinh mausoleum.  Lots of use of glass and ceramic pieces for decoration

We had dinner at a restaurant in the rear of the old imperial palace.  The building was originally a summer home for the King – pleasant surroundings and a comfortable atmosphere of another of the garden houses.

Figure 78.  Imperial Garden Restaurant.  A course served on a carving of a cock using pumpkin and pineapple

Figure 79.  Imperial Garden Restaurant.  A course served as a phoenix

February 21

 Another nice breakfast and our guide and driver picked us up along with our large number of suitcases for a drive across the high mountain pass of Hai Van to Danang.   At the top of the pass we could just barely see through the fog Lang Co beach and village, and the lagoon far below, with Danang spread out  to the south.

In Danang, we stopped for a brief look at the remarkable Hindu statuary in the Cham Museum before leaving for Hoi An.  This was another new piece of knowledge.  “The people of Champa were descended from Malayo-Polynesian settlers who appear to have reached the Southeast Asian mainland from Borneo about the time of the Sa Huynh culture in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. …  The kingdom of Champa was an Indianized kingdom that controlled what is now southern and central Vietnam from approximately the 7th century through to 1832.  … From the 7th to the 10th centuries, the Cham controlled the trade in spices and silk between China, India, the Indonesian islands, and the Abbassid empire in Baghdad. They supplemented their income from the trade routes not only by exporting ivory and aloe, but also by engaging in piracy and raiding.  In the 4th century, wars with the neighboring Kingdom of Funan in Cambodia and the acquisition of Funanese territory led to the infusion of Indian culture into Cham society….. Sanskrit was adopted as a scholarly language, and Hinduism, especially Shaivism, became the state religion. From the 10th century onwards Arab maritime trade in the region brought increasing Islamic cultural and religious influences.  (excerpts from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Champa)

Figure 80.  Examples of sculptures in Cham Museum.

Figure 81.  Examples of sculptures in Cham Museum.

Figure 82. Examples of sculptures in Cham Museum.

After lunch we walked through the Ancient Town of Hoi An, remarkably undamaged in the war.  Hoi An town is a UNESCO World Heritage area. An ancient trading port, once the largest in Indochina, Hoi An was a meeting point for many cultures that left their mark in the different architectural features of its wooden buildings. The original traditional street pattern still exists, as does the quay that once welcomed ships from all over East Asia and beyond. Many remained there for months at a time, waiting for favourable trade winds to carry them home.

Figure 83.  Hoi An – old city

Figure 84.   Hoi An – old city

Figure 85.   Hoi An – old city

Figure 86.   Hoi An – old city

Figure 87.  Hoi An – old city.  Chinese Community Center

We checked into what became our favourite hotel of the trip: the Ancient House Hotel.

Figure 88.  Hoi An – old city.  Ancient House Hotel — Our room

Figure 89. Hoi An – old city.  Ancient House Hotel — Deb on balcony of our room

 

Figure 90. Hoi An – old city.  Ancient House Hotel — at the restaurant

Figure 91.   Hoi An – old city.  Ancient House Hotel — Our room

February 22  

This day was so much fun!  We were picked up by Trang, our guide, from the family owned Jack Tran Eco-Tour business.  The day started with a walk through the carefully tended vegetable gardens of Hoi An.  We specifically visited the gardens of a very sweet 70 year old woman.  She showed us her different vegetable plots and then showed us how she prepares her vegetable gardens with fresh water kelp gathered in man made large ponds.  We even “helped” her water her gardens with watering cans suspended from a shoulder harness.

Figure 92.   Hoi An – Organic Garden Community

Figure 93.     Hoi An – Organic Garden Community.  Lady applying organic fertilizer — water weed — to a plant bed

Figure 94.    Hoi An – Organic Garden Community – Lady covering the water weed with soil

 

Figure 95.     Hoi An – Organic Garden Community.  Lady planting seedlings

Figure 96.     Hoi An – Organic Garden Community.  Trang and Finnie “helping” lady plant seedlings

Figure 97.     Hoi An – Organic Garden Community  – Lady watering the plantings

Figure 98.    Hoi An – Organic Garden Community – Lady watering two beds at once

Figure 99.     Hoi An – Organic Garden Community .  Deb “helping” water beds

Figure 100.     Hoi An – Organic Garden Community — Lady with Deb and Finnie.  She (the lady) is the smaller one, by the way — sigh…

Figure 101.     Hoi An – Organic Garden Community – Lady picking some of our lunch

After a tea break, we mounted our trusty borrowed bicycles and  cycled over  the narrow paths through the countryside, passing by rice paddy fields, water buffalos, bamboo bridges and local farmers on their daily work. Finnie was able to take many more pictures than me, as I was quite intent on staying upright in the narrow bicycle path groove on top of the paddy banks, while skirting past water buffalo and cows, intent on not moving out of my way.  We cycled to meet our boat at the mouth of the Thu Bon estuary where the river meets the Cua Dai Sea and we cruised along the coastline observing the lives of the local fishermen.

Figure 102.    Hoi An – Organic Garden Community – path between sets of ponds where water weed, shrimp, and fish are raised

Figure 103. Hoi An – Organic Garden Community – path between sets of ponds where water weed, shrimp, and fish are raised

Figure 104. Hoi An – Organic Garden Community – path between sets of ponds where water weed, shrimp, and fish are raised, and water buffalo roam!

We joined the  fisherman to ride in a traditional ‘Thung Chai’ basket boat to float through a water palm coconut canal. ‘Thung Chai Basket boats, similar in style to coracles in use throughout the ancient world, are widely used throughout Central Vietnam, and are highly suited to the local terrain and lifestyles of local fishermen due to their relative light weight and portability, often doubling as a carrier for various handy items. Circular and constructed of bamboo and tarred for waterproofing, these small boats can typically carry up to five Vietnamese people.”*

Figure 105.  Tour of fishing industry at Hoi An

Figure 106. Tour of fishing industry at Hoi An

Figure 107. Tour of fishing industry at Hoi An — Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod

Figure 108.  Tour of fishing industry at Hoi An.

 

Figure 109. Tour of fishing industry at Hoi An.  Chit chat.

Figure 110.  Tour of fishing industry at Hoi An.  casting net fishing

Figure 111.   Tour of fishing industry at Hoi An.  casting net fishing

Figure 112.   Tour of fishing industry at Hoi An.  casting net fishing

Figure 113.    Tour of fishing industry at Hoi An.  Trang spreading her wings over the bow of the Titanic.  (Thanks Trang … sigh!

During the American War, Viet Cong soldiers made use of this area as a highly effective hiding place from enemy attacks through the war. We got off the  boat and tried our hand at casting fishing nets.

Figure 114.   Tour of fishing industry at Hoi An.  An area used by Viet Cong to live and hide during raids.

We returned to the boat to enjoy a freshly prepared seafood and fresh garden veggies lunch.  The captain of our boat was also the cook!

Figure 115.   Tour of fishing industry at Hoi An.  lunch.

Figure 116.    Tour of fishing industry at Hoi An.  Demonstration of how to use rice paper to wrap veggies and meat to eat.

February 23

Today we drove from Hoi An to Danang to fly to Hanoi.  When we arrived in Hanoi, our guide and driver picked us up at the airport.  After what seemed to us as a harrowing ride through heavily congested motorcycle, car and pedestrian traffic, we arrived at a beautiful hotel in the heart of downtown Hanoi, the Silk Path Hotel.  We discovered the Italian restaurant in the hotel and Finnie declared that the Marguerita pizza he ordered was “the best he has had anywhere in the world!”  We had three dinners in this restaurant and each time, the Marguerita pizza was exquisite!

Figure 117.  Street scenes in Hanoi

Figure 118. Street scenes in Hanoi — breakfast on the street

After dinner, our guide and driver picked us up to take us to the Water Puppet theatre.  We enjoyed an  hour-long show featuring water puppets acting out life in rural Vietnam accompanied by live traditional Vietnamese music.   “Water puppetry is a tradition that dates back as far as the 11th century CE when it originated in the villages of the Red River Delta area of northern Vietnam. Today’s Vietnamese water puppetry is a unique variation on the ancient Asian puppet tradition. … The puppets are made out of wood and then lacquered. The shows are performed in a waist-deep pool. A large rod supports the puppet under the water and is used by the puppeteers, who are normally hidden behind a screen, to control them. Thus the puppets appear to be moving over the water. When the rice fields would flood, the villagers would entertain each other using this form of puppet play.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_puppetry)  Sorry, we both forgot our cameras (very unusual), so we have no photos to show.

 February 24

 

After a lovely French/Asian buffet breakfast, we were picked up to drive to Bat Trang. We walked in the small alleys of this old village to watch local people producing their fine ceramic products and visit some of the houses used as workshops and showrooms. We walked past many new houses whose front yards supported huge collections of bonsai trees.  Finnie’s fascination in Bonsai trees resulted in many photos, some of which are here.

Figure 119.  Penzai in the ceramic village.  Grown for sale

Figure 120.  Penzai in the ceramic village.  Grown for sale

Figure 121.  Ceramic Village in Hanoi.  Milling clay for making pottery

Figure 122. Ceramic Village in Hanoi.  Hand painting cups

Figure 123.  Ceramic Village in Hanoi.  Using stencils to apply figures to vessels

Figure 124.  Ceramic Village in Hanoi.  — Hauling pottery — Two Ming’s on a motor bike

Figure 125. Ceramic Village in Hanoi.  Hauling pottery

Figure 126.  Ceramic Village in Hanoi.  Hauling Pottery — on a bicycle!

We lunched at a cafe in a family home in Tam Tao.  There we met two young American men, fellow travellers.  After lunch we all enjoyed a short musical presentation of traditional Quang Ho music performed by villagers in the commune house. The singers have recently been officially designated as part of Vietnam’s ‘living heritage’.

Figure 127.  Lunch in Tam Tao

Figure 128.  Music Pavilion at Tam Tao

Figure 129.  Music at Tam Tao

We drove to Dong Ho village – famous for its traditional paintings. Also in Dong Ho village, the inhabitants make their living making and selling paper relics of items to sacrifice on behalf of relatives who have died.  These are purchased by people to burn in a special ceremony honouring their deceased ancestors.   (For example, Qingming — grave sweeping day — occurred on April 5 this year here in China, and we saw lots of these types of items on sale and in use April 4 and April 5.)

Figure 130.  Visit to Dong Ho

Figure 131. Visit to Dong Ho — wood blocks for printing figures

Figure 132.  Visit to Dong Ho — Woodblock painting

Figure 133.  Visit to Dong Ho  — Block painting in progress

Figure 134.  Visit to Dong Ho — making paper replicas of objects for sacrifice

Figure 135.  Visit to Dong Ho — Proud mom with cute kid.

 February 25

After breakfast, our driver picked us up for the 4 hour drive to Ha Long Bay, one of the most spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Areas and the world’s largest marine limestone ‘karst’ landscape.  

On the way, we passed through many rice paddies and villages.

Figure 136.  Rice paddy.  Transplanting rice seedlings

Figure 137. Rice Paddy.  Collecting seedlings for transplantation

Figure 138.  Tractor and trailer in town

In Ha Long, we became part of a 8 passenger – 5 crew member – 1 guide cruise in a private wooden junk that took us through the Bai Tu Long Bay area.  Our boat was the Red Dragon Junk. It’s based on the model of the old Chinese court vessels with three barge sails, a wide transom and a rectangular superstructure. We stopped at a quiet sandy beach.  While the other passengers toured a cave, kayaked around a karst, and swam, we watched them from our comfortable lounge chairs on board the Red Dragon junk.   From there we cruised to a quiet cove where we stopped for the night. 

Figure 139.  Ha Long Bay.  Leaving Ha Long Harbor aboard the Red Dragon II

Figure 140.  Welcome lunch aboard the Red Dragon II

Figure 141.  Aboard the Red Dragon II in HaLong Bay

Figure 142. Aboard the Red Dragon II in HaLong Bay

Figure 143.  Aboard the Red Dragon II in HaLong Bay

Figure 144. Aboard the Red Dragon II in HaLong Bay — Anchored for the night

Dinner was served with much fanfare.  The food was delicious.

Figure 145.  Dinner aboard the Red Dragon II

Figure 146.  Dinner aboard the Red Dragon II

Figure 147.  Dinner aboard the Red Dragon II — Speeches and singing

February 26

As on the Mekong Delta, the turning on of the motor, was our alarm clock.  After breakfast, we continued our cruise to visit a fishing village that actually consisted of houseboats moored together to form a small village.  The villagers make their living with mari-culture growing fish, clams, oysters, and harvesting cultured pearls. 

Figure 149.  Visit to a floating fishing village in Ha Long bay

Figure 150.  Visit to a floating fishing village in Ha Long bay

Figure 151.  Visit to a floating fishing village in Ha Long bay

 

Figure 152. Visit to a floating fishing village in Ha Long bay

Figure 153. Visit to a floating fishing village in Ha Long bay — a natural tunnel through a Karst

Figure 154.  Visit to a floating fishing village in Ha Long bay – a floating vegetable market going to the village with fresh produce

We cruised back to dock and returned back at the Silk Path Hotel in time for another Marguerita pizza supper!  The following day we flew from Hanoi to Weihei, China arriving in our apartment about 9 PM.  It felt like good to be back home!

Obviously, we thoroughly enjoyed this trip!

Posted in Return to Weihai -- Tour of Vietnam | 1 Comment

Fall and Winter in Texas and North Carolina

Autumn and winter in Texas. 

Finnie’s Big Projects:  Finnie’s fall projects evolved into large woodworking projects.  He had given away and sold many of his electrical and hand tools before our move to Fort Worth thinking that a) he no longer would need these kinds of tools, and b) he did not want to move the tools.  The new woodworking projects created an opportunity to purchase new tools that he would enjoy using a router and router table, a reciprocating saw, a circular saw, and several nice hand tools.  He turned the garage into a wonderful convertible garage/woodworking space. 

Figure 1. Our garage Workshop

New Gate:  In November it was apparent that the driveway gate at Kathy and Micheal’s house was rapidly deteriorating.  It was sagging from too much weight straining the hinges that were not stout enough to hold the gate in place.  And the wood was falling apart from being under so much stress.  So with hammer, saw, level, straightedge, screws, and new fence rails in hand, Finnie and Kathy constructed a new driveway gate one Saturday afternoon.  It is good-looking, sturdy, well braced, and easily locks into place.  It enables Kathy and Micheal to park their cars in a secure place overnight and creates a secure, protected back yard space.  

Kitchen Cabinet: The next project was to build a kitchen island for Kathy and Micheal’s kitchen.  This was not the first wood working project that Finnie has completed – my latest count is that he has completed 10 similarly complicated projects.  After lots of planning and discussion, the wood was chosen, the design of the island cabinet was decided upon, and work began.  The new router table allowed Finnie to make very elegant corners and doors.  With glue, clamps, and lots of careful measuring the cabinet is definitely a work of art – and of love!   This project occupied both of us for the first couple of weeks of December.  It was a good physical and mental exercise especially for Finnie to make sure all his cuts were correct and everything fit together.  We stained and coated the cabinet with polyurethane prior to our leaving for a vacation at Topsail Beach, NC.  And as soon as the coating was dry we delivered it to Kathy and Micheal’s house.   The pictures below are of the cabinet including one of the finished cabinet with a paper “top” which represented the granite top that was being made for it but was not ready before we left. 

Figure 2.  The Cabinet after assembly; Finnie used the shipping carton for one of his new tools as a workbench.  He’s a genius if he must say so himself!

Figure 3.  Finnie making a door for the cabinet

 

Figure 4.  Staining the cabinet in our kitchen – where it is warm and mostly dustless

 

Figure 5.  Cabinet all finished except for granite top

After we returned from our beach vacation, we picked up the granite top from the manufacturer and delivered it to Kathy and Micheal’s house.  Micheal was home that day and with the help of Micheal, John (Micheal’s Dad), and Li Wenjing (who was visiting us that week); we installed the top on the cabinet.  Here is a picture of the finished cabinet!

 

Figure 6.  Cabinet with granite top finally installed, L-R: Deb, Finnie, Micheal, and John

New Shelves:  One of the nice features of the cabinet is the sliding metal racks inside the cabinet.  When we purchased them for the cabinet I realized that they would be perfect for our own kitchen cabinet where the pots, pans, and baking dishes are stored.  I was tired of bending upside down to try to find the dish or pot I was looking for.  So I asked Finnie to install four of these racks in our kitchen cabinet and that would be my Christmas present from him.  The racks are wonderful and create an orderly way to store the cooking utensils as well as easily find them when I want to use them.

Repairing light fixtures:  the light in the kitchen was extremely temperamental.  It blinked on and off all the time.  Finnie temporarily fixed it by securing it more tightly to the ceiling, but we finally realized that the light fixture itself was dysfunctional.  So we purchased a replacement fixture and Finnie installed it one evening.  What a wonderful difference that made to have a light that stays on all the time and doesn’t blink.

Speaking of lights, my mother realizes how handy Finnie is and has asked Finnie to repair several things for her.  One of the repair jobs was rewiring a lamp and the other was creating a place to hang her grow light for her orchids.  Both jobs were easy for Finnie but provided my mother with added light where she needed it.

Figure 7.  Grow-light for Velna’s orchids

Garden Boxes:  At the beginning of January as Texas started to warm up and thoughts of gardening drifted into mind, Kathy and Micheal decided that it would be awesome to have box gardens in their back yard.  This would allow them to control weeds, watering, and fertilizer better.  They had planned to have a new irrigation system put into the yard in February and so January would be a good time to build the garden boxes.  So they asked if Finnie could build them.  Of course, what a great project because it would not require exact cuts and it would be a relatively quick project before we left for China.  We priced the treated lumber needed and decided on the place to purchase it, rented a truck to bring all of it home and Finnie started sawing.  Within a week he had sawed all the wood into the correct lengths enabling the garden boxes to even have removable inside spacers.  Using my mother’s and Kathy’s SUV’s we hauled the cut lumber to Kathy and Micheal’s house and Finnie and Kathy assembled the six 4 foot square garden boxes.  Within a couple of weeks, the new irrigation system was installed and the installer even created a special watering system for each garden box!  So we are all looking forward to enjoying a plethora of fresh tomatoes, peppers, squash, onions, beans, and herbs this summer!

Figure 8.  Three of the six garden boxes, with things already planted (as of March 20)

Finnie enjoys woodworking projects and fixing things, so he is kept busy because fortunately our house is old enough that repairs constantly need to be made, my mother has discovered Finnie’s fix-it abilities, and our daughter and new son in law, my mom, and I have fertile minds generating project ideas.

 

Deb’s Presentations to Betsy Ball’s International Management and Leadership classes at Tarleton State University on “Why Live in China?”  Our good friend and colleague, Betsy Ball, an assistant professor at Tarleton State University (part of the Texas A&M system) in Stephenville, Texas invited us to present a lecture to her Monday evening class of students on November 8, 2010 and also to two undergraduate classes of students on February 7, 2011.  We prepared our lecture that included lots of pictures of our life in Weihai during the 2009-2010 academic year to answer the questions we posed – 1) why live and work and study in China?  2) What are the challenges that expatriates face living and studying in another country?

Figure 9.  Betsy Introducing Deb

Figure 10.  Deb listening to a question

We had a grand time presenting this information and thoroughly enjoyed the astute questions posed by the students.  As in any group of people, some are not interested while some are motivated to take the next step toward their goal.  We were happy to learn that in each class, some students were motivated to consider studying and working abroad, even as far away as China, as a real option for themselves! The lecture also provided the two of us an opportunity to reflect and analyze our life in China.  We found ourselves reading several books and viewing documentaries that helped fill in the gaps of our knowledge and understanding about politics, culture, economy, and everyday life of Chinese people.

Figure 11.  Q&A Period
Click here to see a pdf version of our lecture.

Thank you, Betsy, for providing us the opportunity to talk about our favorite subject with your students.  And thank your students for their attention and great questions. 

Thanksgiving and Kathy’s Birthday:

Thanksgiving Day 2010:  We were really lucky to have our Fort Worth family members gather together for a Thanksgiving dinner at our house.  There were six of us (Velna, John Preble,  Kathy and Micheal Preble, Finnie and Deb) and we enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving dinner of roasted turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, Velna’s homemade potato rolls, and Kathy’s homemade apple pie! 

After dinner, Kathy and Micheal hurried off to another Thanksgiving dinner with Micheal’s mom’s family while John stayed and watched the football game on TV with Finnie.  I took my mom home after the dishes were done as she had worked hard to prepare several of the dishes for the meal.  And Finnie and I took John home after the football game.  It was a nice relaxed day with close family.

Thanksgiving is a special time for most families since its timing at the end of November signals the beginning of the December holiday season.  It is a time when families make a special effort to get together and catch up with each other.  

 

Figure 12.  Our small family Thanksgiving dinner at our house in Euless, Texas

While dinner was in the last moments of preparation, Kathy and her grandmother compared notes on a knitting project.  My mom had taught Kathy how to knit about 3 years ago, and Kathy has been knitting ever since.  It is always a joy to me to watch my mother and my daughter enjoying each other’s company.

 

Figure 13.  Velna and Kathy at our house in Euless, Texas

 Kathy’s Birthday:  Kathy’s birthday is in the middle of December adding another special event to our family’s holiday season.  This year Finnie and I treated Kathy and Micheal to a birthday dinner at a restaurant of their choice.  It was a joint birthday dinner since we would not be in the U.S. for Micheal’s birthday in March.  We went to their favorite Italian restaurant.  For an after dinner drink we went to one of their favorite hang-outs and enjoyed wine and scotch by the fire.  We love this picture of Micheal and Kathy, and the following one of all four of us is also a favorite picture.

 

Figure 14.  Kathy and Micheal with her piece of Birthday cake

 

 Figure 15.  The family at Kathy’s Birthday dinner

 The Mayflower Ladies: My mother invited Kathy and me to lunch at a chic little restaurant in downtown Fort Worth in October 2010.  We enjoyed being with each other for this lunch and this picture is a family favorite.  Since this lunch, the three of us have enjoyed several lunches together and at one of them (after our beach trip) we decided that we were “The Mayflower Ladies”. 

 

Figure 16.  Kathy, Deb, and Velna — three generations of determined and highly independent women!

 Tarleton State University Jazz Band Concert: 

Betsy and Greg Ball invited us to Greg’s Jazz Band Concert in early December 2010.  Greg is an associate professor in music, teaching saxophone and directing the Tarleton State University’s Jazz Band II.  The Jazz Band program at Tarleton is a product of Greg’s passion for good jazz music.  He has developed this program so that there are actually two bands, one of student musicians who are just learning to play in a jazz band (Jazz Band I), and directed by Cara Pollard, and one for students who play very well (Jazz Band II), directed by Greg Ball.  Jazz Band II has played at a professional level not only at Tarleton State but also at many venues in Europe and in the U.S.  We enjoyed all the evening’s performances so much!!  The best part was that because one of the students could not play that evening, Greg had to play that student’s part; therefore, we were treated to a solo saxophone performance played by Greg.  We loved the performance! 

Later that evening after the performance we went back to the Ball’s house and enjoyed a gourmet dinner that Betsy and Greg had prepared for us and Cara Pollard.  And after dinner we were treated to a performance by their son, David, on his marimba.  Like his dad, David is a talented young man!

Thank you , Betsy, Greg, and David, for inviting us to your home and to the concert!

 

Figure 17.  Greg Ball, Professor of Jazz Music and Band

 

Figure 18.  The Band

 

Figure 19.  Dinner at the Ball’s after the concert.

Vacation at the Beach:   For over 2 decades our family has been traveling to southern North Carolina to renew family bonds with my small family and Finnie’s extended family.  When the kids were small we would stay with one relative or another, but as the kids got to be active teenagers, Finnie and I realized that renting a beach house on nearby Topsail Island would be a better solution.  So Christmas of 2010 was no different except that none of our kids were able to join us this year; however, my mother, who now lives near us in Texas, did join us.

Visit with son, Michael, and his family — Natale, Bergen and Athena.  This particular visit to the beach started with a 3 day car ride from Texas to North Carolina which included a quick overnight visit with Michael, Natale, and the grandchildren, Bergen and Athena.  It was good see them for at least a brief time before heading on the coast.  Due to other time constraints, and a serious illness in the family, they were unable to join us at the beach.

Figure 20.  Super snowman builders — Bergen and Athena

Figure 21.  Super snowman and Super Builders

Christmas and New Year at Topsail Island, North Carolina:  We rented an adorable cottage right by the edge of the waves and enjoyed 2 weeks of restful sleep with the waves lulling us to sleep at night

Figure 22.  House we rented on Topsail Island

We arrived in our cottage after a quick stop at the grocery store for supplies and found this cottage to be one of the best equipped and supplied cottages we had ever rented! 

During the day we watched the marine and bird life.  The most thrilling day was when hundreds of dolphins swam along the waves going toward the south.  They surfed in the waves, leapt out of the water, and circled around schools of small fish. 

Figure 23.  Dolphins just beyond the surf — look for the exposed dorsal fins.

Figure 24.  The beach at our house

Unlike many of the new beach cottages with multiple floors and lots of stairs, this cottage only had one set of stairs to the front door and then the bedrooms, kitchen, living area, and screened in porch was on one level with a wonderful view of all the action at surfside.  My mother had a room overlooking the ocean as did we, which made our stay pleasant and memorable.

Figure 25.  Sunrise from our bedroom

Figure 26.  Deb on Beach

 

Figure 27.  Velna on the beach

It was our turn to host a family get together and we did so at the beach cottage, but the day we chose turned out to be an unusual weather day in that it snowed almost an inch.  This is highly unusual for North Carolina beaches.  Within a few days the temperature was back into the normal range of 60F during the day.  Needless to say our reunion was understandably not well attended.

Figure 28.  Murray Family Christmas Dinner at the Beach House

But the subsequent warmer days allowed many family and friend get-togethers. 

Figure 29.  Sisters Helen and  Zelma helping Finnie with his genealogy project

Figure 30.  Finnie and Vel working on genealogy —  It was during the time, that we confirmed that Velna’s (and therefore, Deb’s and Kathy’s ancestors) were among the passengers on the voyage of the Mayflower, which made land at what is now known as Plymouth Rock in March 1621

As you have observed, the family gathers mostly around meal times to enjoy huge servings of fresh seafood – shrimp, flounder, crab – or Carolina pork barbeque with the accompanying southern vegetables of okra, slaw, butter beans, field peas, etc.

Figure 31.  Dinner together at Jones’ Seafood

We usually don’t give each other a lot of gifts, just one or two small things.  But Finnie and I decided to give my mother an i-pod i-touch, since she enjoys new electronic devices.  The i-touch allowed her access to her email, ability to take and send photos and videos, and to enjoy her favorite music.  She seemed to enjoy it!  Naturally, that led to a Kindle for her January 12, 91st birthday!  And they seemed to be a hit with all of Velna’s friends!

Figure 32.  Velna with her iTouch ipod  and Kindle

We reluctantly loaded all our stuff into the car and left the cottage on the last day.  We promised to return next winter!  The beach had a soothing, rejuvenating effect on all of us.  Our 3 day journey back to Texas was uneventful, but long!

Li Wenjing’s visit:  Just after we returned from our Christmas holiday at the beach in North Carolina, we were happy to host Li Wenjing.  Li Wenjing is now a graduate student at North Illinois University.  She attended UNK during her 3rd year of college and graduated from Shandong University last June.  During her winter break this year, Wenjing was able to visit us in Fort Worth.  We spent several days introducing her to our family.  She helped with the finishing touches of Kathy and Micheal’s kitchen counter, we drove on a sightseeing trip around Fort Worth, visited the Kimball Art Museum, toured the stockyards, and Wenjing was a guest at my mother’s birthday party!  She even changed the batteries in one of our fire alarms for Finnie. We had a wonderful time  and we are so happy that she could visit us for a few days!  Thanks Wenjing!

Figure 33.  Wenjing and Deb at the Ft. Worth Stockyards

Figure 34.  The finished cabinet with granite top; Wenjing, Deb, Micheal, and John

 

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Deb’s Presentation on Life in Weihai, China

Living in Weihai, China Feb 11 – 2

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Deb and Finnie Visit Murray State University

September 23-26, 2010

Back in May, in Weihai, we met Jim Carter, Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Executive Director for Alumni Affairs, at Murray State University, along with several other staff and faculty.  They were participating in a several week stay at Shandong University, learning Chinese culture.  Our paths crossed numerous times, and ultimately Deb and I were invited to visit Murray State after Deb had recovered sufficiently from her hip surgery to travel.

We flew to Nashville, Tennessee, and rented a car for the drive over to Murray, Kentucky.  It was a pleasant two hour drive, and we arrived at the Curris Center, where we were to room during our visit, with no difficulty.  The Curris Center is a large student center with food service and various meeting rooms in addition to a wide variety of student services and book store.  There are several guest suites, very nicely appointed, on the third floor, and that is where we stayed.  Our first impression on arriving on campus was that the campus was well groomed, spacious, and attractive.  The students working at the information/reception desk were Chinese, and so we had a good opportunity to see that these students were very happy to be at Murray State.  They were extremely courteous, as one would expect, but very excited about their life and their academic studies at Murray State.   Here are some scenes in Curris Center: 

One of the food shops in Curris Center

One of the Lobbies in Curris Center

Curris Center spaces for relaxation

Jim and his wife, Debbie, met us and drove us to a restaurant just outside of Murray for dinner, where we meet most of the Weihai visit delegation (Discover China Program). We enjoyed catching up with everyone as we dined.  The delegates all recalled very fondly their time in Weihai, and all expressed the desire to return as soon as possible.  Of course, they were very interested in catching up on the students and faculty at Shandong University whom they came to know while there.

Discover China Delegation: left to right: Tom Holcomb, Greg Mayes, Jim Carter, Crystal Weir, Kim Crouch, Deb and Finnie

The following morning, Jim met us for breakfast, and we toured the campus before beginning a series of meetings with the international education office staff and university academic administration.   The tour of campus reinforced our initial impressions of the beauty and excellent maintenance of the campus.  While older buildings quite clearly had been adapted to different uses than they had when first built, alterations were appropriate for the newer uses, and there was no evidence of lack of maintenance.

Fitness Center

College of Science and Technology

Equine Center

Basketball Arena

Meetings with the international office personnel showed a well-organized operation with key personnel responsible for each aspect of international student services, from recruitment to admissions, to financial aid, to English as a Second Language, to study abroad, and so on.  The Director of Institute for International Studies, Dr. Luis Canales, articulated a clear vision for the expanding international student population at Murray State, with a strong interest in both increasing the numbers of students and in diversifying the population.  I felt that the personnel demonstrated both high levels of confidence and competence in their jobs.  Dr. Guangming Zou, Director of ESL Programs, described how the ESL programs support International students who need additional English to prepare to enroll in university classes. Mark Galloway, Associate Director for International Enrollment, described the admission process for international students, and Bill McKibbens, Associate Director for International Student & Scholar Services, told us about services and scholarships for international students.  I also look forward to working with Jennifer Dickey, Student Abroad Advisor, to encourage Murray State Students to study in China!

Visit with Institute for International Studies Office Personnel: Mark Galloway, Bill McKibbens, Jennifer Dickey, Luis Canales, Zou Guangming, and (seated with Deb) Martha Smith. Jim Carter is presenting the Office Gifts from China

During our tour of the campus, we were impressed by the number and variety of academic programs!  They include the humanities and fine arts, and science programs, plus health sciences and human services program, Agriculture (with equine science programs), ABET accredited engineering technology programs, education programs, and AACSB accredited business programs, for example.  About 8,300 undergraduates and 1,800 graduate students are enrolled at Murray State.  This range of academic programs will be appealing to many Chinese students with whom I work.

At lunch we dined with President Randy Dunn, Provost Bonnie Higginson, Director Canales, and Vice President Carter.  All of these officials were very interested in nurturing the international programs.  They all travel to partner institutions and maintain strong relationships with them.  This seemed to Deb and me to be an exceptionally strong commitment to internationalization of the campus and to supporting the efforts of the Institute for International Studies.  Subsequently, we met Vice President of Student Affairs, Don Robertson, who was just as committed to the international programs as are the other officers.  We also met the head of dining services, Richard Fritz, who enthusiastically described the adaptation of the food services to include many international cuisines prepared and seasoned properly by international students.  All this bodes well for a seamless coordination of support for the international students.

Director Luis Canales, Provost Bonnie Higginson, Deb, Finnie, President Randy Dunn, VP Jim Carter

In the evening, we dined with Jim and Debbie Carter and two Chinese students at an “authentic” Chinese restaurant in the center of Murray.  This is significant because most Chinese people we have met are not very impressed with American Chinese restaurants.  The students, who were from Qingdao University, were very enthusiastic about the restaurant’s food quality and presentation.  I had Hunan chicken, which was excellent, and we all enjoyed the various dishes we ordered and shared!  The students were extremely enthusiastic about Murray State, and we really enjoyed visiting with the students, whose English names are Jennifer and Corona.

Corona

Jennifer

After  dinner, we all attended the “Mr. MSU” contest.  This was a student group fund raising effort to support the Arthritis Foundation and the Juvenile Arthritis Foundation.  The large Lovett Auditorium was full of enthusiastic people who were there to watch the finals of the contest, in which men students representing campus organizations appeared in formal attire and presented musical or dance performances.  Many were very good!  The event demonstrated a very engaged student body.  This and many other events occurring it frequent intervals indicate a vibrant campus life.  Here are a couple of photos from the “Mr. MSU Contest!”

On Saturday, we had a treat of going to visit Betty and Tom Holcomb.  Greg Mayes drove us out to their home, which is on Kentucky Lake. Kentucky and Barkley Lakes are very large impoundments on the Tennessee River and the Cumberland River, respectively.  The Holcombs and Greg were members of the Discover China delegation that visited Weihai in May. We enjoyed a visit at their beautiful home on the lake and then we took a long boat ride to a restaurant on the lake for lunch before returning to Murray.

Visiting on the Holcomb's Deck

The view from the Holcomb's Deck

A Ride on the Holcomb's Boat

A View of the Holcomb's House from the Lake

We departed the lake in time to arrive on campus to watch the football game that began at 6:00 P.M.  Murray State won the game handily, and after each score, the university mascot, a thoroughbred race horse, called Racer 1, made a fast circuit of the field.  Quite exciting!

Racer 1 after a score

Deb and I returned to Texas on Sunday, but we had a most informative visit at Murray State, and we were very impressed.  On further examination of Murray State University, we have learned the Murray State has been rated by U.S. News and World Report Magazine in the top tier of comprehensive state universities each year for past 20, and this year it is ranked 7th among such universities in the southern region of the United States.  Furthermore,  Forbes Magazine has ranked Murray State as one of the top 100 “best buys” among American colleges.  We think that Murray State University is one very much worth considering as a place to study, and we certainly want to recommend it to international students.  Here is what Murray State International students have to say about it.

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Life in Texas — July 1 to September 30, 2010

Visit from Bill and Kenya: We had a great pleasure of a brief visit by Bill Jurma and Kenya Taylor on July 4.  Bill is Dean of Arts and Humanities and Kenya is Dean of Graduate Programs and Research at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.  They were on their way to Cancun for a vacation and they were able to visit for an evening.  It was wonderful to see them and catch up on everyone at UNK!  The evening was too short, but we were happy and thankful they shared the evening with us!



Kenya and Bill

Kathy’s and Micheal’s Wedding: As soon as we de-planed on July 1st, we were immersed in last minute wedding arrangements.  While the wedding itself was a small outdoor ceremony, followed by a reception at Backwoods where Micheal works, there were many details to address.

The weekend before the wedding, Kathy’s friend, Julia, hosted a bridal shower party.  Kathy’s friends were invited to a special dinner at a very nice restaurant.

The Bride, Kathy, at the Bridal Shower

Kathy and Friends at the Shower

Several events took place during the wedding weekend.  We started out with a pool-side barbeque the evening before the wedding day.   It was a very relaxed time designed for everyone to get to know each other better.  Unfortunately, it was so relaxed, that we don’t have many pictures of the event!  However here is a picture of the venue

View from the balcony where the dinner occurred

Conversation at the rehearsal dinner

Fortuantely, Izehi, the professional photographer, took hundreds of pictures at the wedding day events and we are using several of them for this blog.  Izehi’s artistry and professionalism are evident in her pictures and we are very happy that Micheal and Kathy asked Izehi to be the wedding photographer.

The morning of the wedding day the women in the wedding party were invited to our house for a brunch.  The brunch was fun and the food was incredibly delicious! (Thank you, Janice!!)   After brunch, Kathy, the women attendants and myself, went to the hairdressers for a hairstyling and makeup session.

Mrs. Marut, who catered the brunch and who also made Kathy's wedding Dress and Kathy's Friend, Julia

Ladies enjoying the brunch

Granddaughters, Bergen and Athena, opened gifts we brought from China at the Brunch

Pictures from the hair styling

The bride getting a new hairdo

Laura Murray, our daughter-in-law, having her hair dressed

The men in the wedding party met for lunch and then went to the Omni to play pool and enjoy a drink together.  It was a cool retreat for a great male bonding experience of the some of the men in the family!

John Preble, Finnie, Miceal Preble (groom), Matthew and Michael Murray ready to play pool!

Micheal takes a shot

The wedding party stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn in Fort Worth just next door to the wedding venue and two blocks from the reception venue.  As everyone was getting ready for the wedding, my mother’s room turned into the dressing room for Kathy and her attendants.  My mom got the unexpected pleasure of watching the girls get dressed, giggle, have pictures taken by Izehi, and be an integral part of the wedding preparations.

Velna, the Bride's grandmother helps adjust the gown

Kathy in her wedding gown

Kathy loves dark reds, oranges, purples, etc and she looks smashing in dark red – so that seemed the only choice for wedding colors.  However, her attendants found it a challenge to find red dresses in the middle of the summer!  Kathy’s dress was handmade by an accomplished Fort Worth seamstress.  (Thank you, Janice!) The dress was both elegant and cool enough for the 100 degree heat.  Micheal and several of the men in the wedding party wore guayaberas, a Mexican wedding shirt.  Other men wore “Charlie” shirts. Micheal’s mother and sisters made gorgeous flower bouquets and corsages, and elegant floral displays for the ceremony and table decorations.  The wedding ceremony itself was at 6PM in 100 degree heat at a city pavilion along the Trinity River, one of the places that Kathy and Micheal visited early in their relationship.   It was a gorgeous setting, and it was such a fun, relaxed wedding ceremony perfectly suited to Kathy and Micheal’s lifestyle.

Wedding party Awaiting the bride

Giving away my daughter!

Some of the wedding party

The Couple and wedding attendants

Wedding Vows

Vows

The Bride's Family

The Groom's Family

The Bird-seed (instead of rice) shower!

Velna, Kathy, and Deb

Mr. and Mrs. Preble

The reception was lots of fun.  Fort Worth is a mecca for musicians: classical, jazz, and blues.  Micheal and Kathy asked  Jazz man James Hinkle to play at their reception and the music was so much fun to listen to and to dance to.  Many people came to wish Kathy and Micheal their best.  The Backwoods staff worked hard to create a festive atmosphere!  We thank everyone at Backwoods for their enthusiastic support!  Kathy’s maid of honor, Sarah, and her parents helped with the reception catering at the last minute to cover a last minute communication breakdown.   Their energetic support made the reception appear to be flawless.  We thank the Lawsons very much!

Father-daughter dance -- to "I Loved Her First"

Groom and his Mom dancing

Athena and Granddad Dancing

Everyone Dance!

John, Vel, Zelma at the reception

Mike, Matt, and Laura and the James Hinkle Band

The next morning the wedding party said their goodbyes to each other and to Micheal and Kathy at one of Fort Worth’s Sunday morning hang-outs, Nick’s Jazz Café.  We listened to Nick play jazz music on his saxophone while waiting patiently for our Greek breakfasts.  It was fun to visit over coffee and great food.

Bergen and Athena at the Jazz Cafe

Newly Weds at the Jazz Cafe

Kathy and Micheal are looking forward to a honeymoon vacation in October to western Turkey and a few of the eastern Greek Islands.  Kathy’s friend and her new husband live in Turkey and the two couples will be visiting and traveling together.  Our job is to cat-sit our “grand-cat”, Salchichon, while they are away.

Grandcat, Sal

Visits by Relatives: the wedding brought several family members from North Carolina to visit us for several days.  Both sons, Michael and Matthew, and their families and Finnie’s two sisters, Helen and Zelma, were able to stay in Fort Worth for several days.  Although Micheal, Natale, and the girls had to return right after breakfast at Nick’s, Matthew, Laura and Finnie spent a couple of days visiting the Fort Worth Stockyards and other Fort Worth high points.

Matt and Laura hanging out at the Ft. Worth Stockyards

Matt and Laura at Joe T. Garcia's Mexican Restaurant at the Stockyards

Micheal explaining the features of his cool cell phone. Matthew says, "Mine has a 'send' button"

We also spend an afternoon together with Matt, Laura, Helen, Zelma, and Rachel Arthur at the Kimbell Art Museum in Ft. Worth.

Helen and Zelma stayed on with us for a couple of weeks so, we explored more local places.  We spent a day exploring the Dinosaur State Park at Glen Rose, Texas near Stephenville.  At the park one can see huge footprints of several species of dinosaurs in the rock of the river bed.

Explorers at Dinosaur State Park

A dinosaur footprint under the water in the river bed

Two dinosaur footprints in the river bed

We spent a Saturday evening at the Rodeo in the Stockyards also. The action is fast, so it’s a little difficult to get a photo that us in focus with a small digital camera, but here are two shots.

Calf Roping

Bull riding -- at this point, just a bull bucking!

Of course, we also dined out several times!

Zelma and Helen at an Italian restaurant

And we cooked out in our backyard.

Deb cooking salmon

Finnie cooking steaks

After Zelma and Helen returned to North Carolina, we began preparing for Deb’s surgery.

Surgery: After the wedding we geared ourselves up for my hip replacement surgery.  The surgery was August 11 and ever since then I have quickly been getting back on my feet.  What a joy it is to walk without hurting at every step and without having to walk like a duck to relieve the pain.  Finnie has done a spectacular job caring for me!  As I write this, it has been about 6 weeks since the surgery and while I am not walking a mile yet, I am off the walker and using a cane.  The best part of this whole deal is that the arthritis pain is gone. I suspect I will be walking without any discomfort from muscle soreness before too long.   I did not realize until after the surgery just how debilitating that pain was for me.  My task these days is learning how to walk properly again – I had been “walking” with my hip rolling gait for so long that my brain does not remember how to walk right.  This requires many visits to the physical therapist a week.  But the doctor and PT people feel that with practice I will be walking properly in a couple of months.  And I am looking forward to going back to Weihai fully able to walk the several blocks to wherever I want to go, or to go shopping in the many interesting little shops, or to walk around the thousands of cultural artifacts in China and be able to fully appreciate them.

Deb on the day after surgery

Family Dinners: Since we have been home, we have had many occasions to have family meals together.  My mother enjoys cooking and has made several meals at our house while I was recovering.  It was not only a huge help, but also a pleasant way to reconnect as a family.  We have entertained some of our newly extended family as well.

Wedding anniversary dinner at Red Lobster: On September 1st, we enjoyed, or rather marveled at, our 37th wedding anniversary this year!  A lot has happened to us over the years, besides aging, and it is always significant that we can celebrate another year together.  We enjoyed a dinner at a favorite restaurant, Red lobster,  and remembered what our wedding day was like.  As I recall it was the first time I had met some of Finnie’s relatives!  We also had an outdoor wedding at my mother’s house followed by a barbequed chicken dinner with very close family – actually if it had not been for my mother we would not have had a wedding cake – that completely slipped my mind!

Other activities we have enjoyed since we have been in Texas have included going to special events, exercising more, and completing “honey-do” lists.  Some of the specific things we have done follow:

Labor Day – Since Labor Day is a holiday for government employees, but not a holiday for people in retail sales like Micheal, Kathy had the day to herself to clean her house.  About 10 am she called her dad and suggested that we spend the day at her house and maybe he could help her with a small fix-it project.  Finnie has experienced these “daddy-do” requests enough to know that he needs to supply himself with an adequate arsenal of tools prior to leaving the house.  This day was no different.  Unfortunately, he forgot to bring a level knowing that Kathy owned a level at some point in the near past.  However, as she was searching for it, she decided it had found itself a new home.  Being the resourceful person she is, she downloaded a level “app” into her cell phone and “voila” provided her dad with a level!  The small project took most of the afternoon, but now the dryer is vented to the outside of the house, not venting into the house and the shelf above the washer and dryer is hanging evenly on the wall.  Meanwhile, I relaxed on the sofa watching Kathy and her dad have a fun day fixing things.  They do enjoy those times together!

After Micheal finished working, we met him and decided to have dinner together at a nearby restaurant.  We sat outside enjoying a perfectly lovely 80 degree evening.  There were no mosquitoes, flies, or other annoying flying creatures.  The restaurant setting was quiet and the evening turned into a delightful family dinner talking about all kinds of interesting things from the expanding universe to great business ideas!  We look forward to more evenings like that one!

Remodeling the porch: Our house sports a small back porch that was screened in.  It is big enough for two people to comfortably sit and enjoy the night air or a morning cup of coffee.  Last winter while we were living here, Finnie realized as he and Micheal were shivering out there one evening, that it would be much more pleasant if the porch were  more enclosed with screened windows and storm door, an electrical receptacle for plugging in a small heater, and a ceiling fan to move the air on the porch.  We hired a contractor early in the summer and after the weather turned slightly cooler, he completed the renovation in three days.  We enjoy our remodeled porch very much because it still allows a breeze to move through the windows, while providing the capability of warmth in the winter, and it gives Finnie and Micheal a pleasant, protected place to discuss world issues – or me to write this blog on my computer!

The porch before glassing it in

New porch, with windows

Speaking of fix-it jobs around the house, Finnie has been busy making large and small repairs to our house this summer.  Here’s Finnie to describe some of those projects:

(Finnie) Finnie’s fix-it jobs around house:

Replacing bathroom faucets. Our bathrooms have  faucets for the sinks that over the years had become corroded due to the chlorine in the water, so they looked unsightly and valves were beginning to seize up.  So, I decided to replace the three faucets and drains.  Generally, this is a 30 minute to 1 hour job for me.  But as Deb loves to point out, she always multiplies my repair time estimates by a factor of 20 – 30.  (It grieves me to admit, but her  adjustments of my time estimates are often much closer than mine… ) It proved to be the case this time, too.  The shut-off valves beneath the sinks were so corroded that I couldn’t turn 2 of the 3 off, so, I had to go buy new valves and then shut off the water supply to the whole house, then remove the valves and replace with new ones.  Then, I could attack the faucets.  So, in about 48 hours, we now have new faucets and drains for the three sinks.

While I enjoy doing these little maintenance projects, inserting my double-wide body into the small spaces under sinks is one part of the job that isn’t too much fun as it is painful to lie on the base-unit floor and there is not enough room inside to maneuver my arms to easily get to all joints that have to be tightened.  Anyway, we got the job done, so all is well.

The space under the sink

Finnie Under the sink

The new faucet

Renewing the planter beds around the house. When we bought this house, the front planter beds were monopolized by a large tree, and smaller shrubs and flowers had been crowded out, and the tree blocked the view of the house from the street.  So, we planned a renewal project that involved digging up the tree (turned out to be a bigger job that I thought — remember Deb’s time estimates?)  The root system was both very larger and very thick.  We replaced the big tree with a small, slow-growing holly tree.  Then we replaced the shrubs with a different kind, which would both provide some color and remain at a height beneath our windows.  Finally, we planted perennial flowering plants that attract butterflies.  This project began as soon as we arrived in Texas and continued until Kathy and Micheal’s wedding.  By that time, we had the front planter area replanted, and we replaced a decorative fountain by the front door.

Front of House with renewed planter

After the wedding, I began working on the back planter area, which had been damaged by ice last winter while I was in Weihai.  Mainly, this project simply involved cleaning up and adding the perennial flowering plants like those we put in the front.  This kept me busy for a couple of weeks before Deb’s surgery!

Back yard work

Back yard garden left

Backyard garden area right

During parts of the days that were too hot to work in the garden, I worked on improving our tool storage in the garage and pantry — nice simple, and easy jobs that could be done in the relative comfort of shade — or air conditioning.

Fixing the basketball goal

Finnie and Kathy date to Kimbell Museum. My lovely daughter, Mrs. Kathy Preble, invited me for a date to the Kimbell Art Museum for the Mayan exhibit.  We had a great day together attending lectures and viewing the exhibits — and enjoying great Mexican food at a restaurant nearby.   It was a wonderful date, and one of the great reasons to live near Ft. Worth.

Ft. Worth has an outstanding arts district with three major art galleries, botanical gardens, zoological gardens, hundreds of live music venues with a wide range of music styles from the Jazz Cafe (where we often enjoy breakfast) to the Bass Music Hall for major music events, old west culture — including rodeo and cowboy outfitters at the Stockyards, and great restaurants everywhere.  So, there is never a time when there is “nothing to do.”

Finnie and John to TCU game. One of the things to do is to go to football games!  High School, college, and professional.  On September 11, John, Kathy’s father-in-law, and I went to watch the Texas Christian University football game. Last year, and certainly again this year, TCU has a very strong football team.  John is a long-time fan of TCU, so he was much better informed about the team than I was, but we had a great time together at the game, which TCU won, 62-7!  John and I stopped at the Dixie Cafe after the game for pancakes, which where great.  (Next time, I think I’ll try the “toad fries!”  (OK, the TCU mascot is the Texas Horned Toad, and so “toad fries” are french fries, covered with melted cheese and chili.  uh!uh! good!)

Riding bicycles in park: Shortly after arriving home, Finnie found a bicycle repair shop nearby and took our bicycles that we have owned for several years to the shop for tune-ups.  We wanted to ride our bicycles here in the states because we had enjoyed riding our bicycles in Weihai so much.  Coincidentally, we have discovered that we live in a city with many parks, all with paved bike paths that extend for several miles throughout the Fort Worth area.  When we bought our current house we did not realize just how extensive the bike trail infrastructure is in Fort Worth – what a pleasant surprise!  My surgeon has given me permission to ride my bicycle again, so  we will be spending some pleasant cool evenings on our bikes now.

Going to the Movies: Since we have been home, we have enjoyed going to the movie theatre to see a couple of movies.  There are Movie Taverns here in the metroplex.  These businesses are a combination of a nice movie theatre with very comfortable seats with small attached tables and a very nice sandwich restaurant.  Patrons order their popcorn, drinks, sandwiches, glasses of wine, beer, or soft drinks and a waiter delivers your order to you at your seat.  You can enjoy your sandwich and drink while watching the movie.  This is a wonderful, non-sticky, way to enjoy a great movie.  We have seen Avatar and The Inception at a Movie Tavern.  Just recently we puzzled our way through The American.

Banff Movie Festival: Last weekend Micheal invited us to attend an event that he organized.  Backwoods sponsored the Banff Movie Festival in Fort Worth.  The Banff Movie Festival is a 3 hour event featuring several very short movies to 45 minute movies of extreme sport enthusiasts skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, rock climbing, and ski gliding, going down, up and around mountains all over the world. Held at the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum, the movie theatre was full of people from the metroplex who love to participate in and watch people doing these sports.  We loved the evening – another reason why we enjoy living in Fort Worth! Here’s a clip from one of the movies that we saw that evening:

Dream River Trailer

Individual projects: My own projects during the last two months, besides recovering from surgery, have been reading (The Man Who Loved China, China’s Megatrends, Pillars of the Earth, and The Lost Code), writing parts of this blog, practicing Chinese writing and vocabulary, and re-newing an old interest in learning how to draw.

Finnie’s are digitizing all family photos (so far 50,500 digitized and about 30,000 to go!); reading China’s Megatrends, When China Rules the World, Pillars of the Earth, Pearl in China, Pearl of China; hanging pictures and other house jobs, and yard work (but we have a tiny yard!)

Posted in Life in America | 3 Comments

Deb’s and Finnie’s Life in Weihai – Entry 23a

June 11-July 1

Deb: June 11 – 18: Xi’an and Guilin – “A Feast for the Mind and Eyes”: We contacted Molly at Discover China Tours again and asked her to arrange a tour for us to Xi’an and Guilin. The tour was well planned and we learned a lot. Due to some terrible storms on the day before our return trip home, China’s airline system was severely taxed. But Molly found a way for us to return home with our luggage a day later. We were grateful to have this kind of assistance to solve a problem while traveling in country; we met some western travelers who were stranded without anyone to help.

To describe the trip in detail would take many pages, so I will describe only the highlights and Finnie will add some pictures. Both cities are spectacular and we could have spent many more days in each place – perhaps someday we will return and do just that. Xi’an is an ancient city having served as China’s capital city during several of the ruling dynasties. Its beginnings date from about 6000 years ago! So the history that has been made in Xi’an is extensive and our few days there helped us begin to understand that history and understand a little bit more about the roots of China’s culture.

To relate this to my theme: Xi’an is a feast for the mind. Guilin is a feast for the eyes. Guilin is situated in an extensive area of karsts (“… a special type of landscape that is formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks, including limestone and dolomite. Karst regions contain aquifers that are capable of providing large supplies of water.” http://www.karstwaters.org/kwitour/whatiskarst.htm). sm Scene along Li River

This area was in primordial times situated at the bottom of the ocean. The “hills” which look like one half of an elongated ellipse standing vertically are the karsts formed by thousands of years of erosion of the limestone after the area was pushed up by the tectonic movement that formed the Himalayan mountains. Villages nestle among the hills where farmers grow rice in hundreds of thousands of small rice paddies. The region is prone to rainy conditions and was no exception when we were there; in fact, the River Li became so rain swollen that the river boats did not run the next few days after we left.  But, I’ll describe what we saw and did on this trip in the paragraphs that follow.

Beginning on the morning of June 12, our knowledgeable guide, Ann, took us to many places in Xi’an. Our first stop in Xi’an was at the Xi’an Shaanxi Archeological Museum, which provided us the background for understanding the breadth of activities that have occurred in and around Xi’an since 4500 BC to the current time.

sm Xi'an Shannxi Museum entrance sm Deb and Ann in the museum lobby

sm Bronze Pot at Xi'an Shaanxi Museum sm Inside of Bronze Pot at Xi'an XiShaanxi Museum

Bronze Pot                                             Inside Bronze Pot

sm Bronze Bells at Xi'an Shaanxi Museum sm Shell Coins at Xi'an Shaanxi Museum

Bronze Bells                                    Shell Coins

After the museum, we visited a silk garment and rug factory.  Deb and a saleslady made a tie-dye scarf, and we bought some painted scarves.

sm Tie-dying a scarf sm The scarf drying

Then we visited the rug factory area.  We watched a young women making a small rug, and we could understand why the small rug took more than a month of full-time work.  The larger ones, require many months, obviously, and they were magnificent!

sm Making a silk rug sm The rug artist

sm SIlk rugs of various sizes sm A small rug

After a very nice lunch near the silk factory, we visited the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which was “originally built in 652 during the reign of Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It functioned to collect Buddhist materials that were taken from India by the hierarch Xuanzang. Xuanzang started off from Chang’an (the ancient Xian), along the Silk Road and through deserts, finally arriving in India, the cradle of Buddhism.  Enduring 17 years and traversing 100 countries, he obtained Buddha figures, 657 kinds of sutras, and several Buddha relics. Having gotten the permission of Emperor Gaozong (628-683), Xuanzang, as the first abbot of Da Ci’en Temple, supervised the building of a pagoda inside it. With the support of royalty, he asked 50 hierarchs into the temple to translate Sanskrit in sutras into Chinese, totaling 1,335 volumes, which heralded a new era in the history of translation. Based on the journey to India, he also wrote a book entitled ‘Pilgrimage to the West’ in the Tang Dynasty, to which scholars attached great importance.” (Wikipedia) The book is the basis of the story of “The Monkey King”.

sm Wild goose pagodasm Deb and Finnie at the Pagoda

sm The Buddha sm Jade carving mural in the pagoda

Around the Big Wild Goose Pagoda are gardens with Buddha Statues. The popular statue of the Happy Buddha was one that Finnie relates to since this is his Chinese nickname! The Buddhist monk overseeing this statue was highly amused when Finnie rubbed his belly and the Happy Buddha’s belly for this photo.

sm Happy Buddha rubbing the belly of the Happy Buddha sm Deb rubbing Happy Buddha's belly in front of Happy Buddha

The museum on the grounds was full of original paintings and calligraphy. We learned about calligraphy and practiced some characters with traditional brush and ink. And we were unable to resist purchasing this beautiful watercolor which now is framed and hanging in our Texas living room.

sm Finnie's first effort at Calligraphy in the pagoda art shop sm painting from Xi'an -- summer scene

In the evening, we were entertained one evening at the Tang Dynasty Dumpling and Dance Festival. The Dance festival was interesting but the dumplings were fun to eat. Many different kinds of dumplings were served while we got to know our table mates. We met a father and daughter from Texas and a group of faculty from Mexico visiting the School of Chinese Medicine. We met the international education director of the school who invited us to visit his school in the near future!

Part of dinner at the dinner and music show sm Dinner before the show

sm Dinner and Music Show

We will continue this entry with Entry 23b.

Posted in Life in Weihai -- June 2 to July1, 2010 | Leave a comment